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Veterinary dental exams consist primarily of 2 components – oral examinations and dental cleanings. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that you begin dental exams with your vet during the puppy stages and continue annually as your dog ages.
Basic oral exams can be done without the use of anesthetics, although they are required for more complete or thorough exams as well as dental cleanings. The AAHA set a list of requirements for veterinary dental practices and procedures. Guidelines have been set for pre-anesthetic exams, anesthesia monitoring, dental radiographs, scaling and polishing and the use of fluoride or other sealants.
- Pre-anesthetic Exams - Whenever anesthetics are used, special consideration is taken to ensure the safety of your dog. Before any such drugs are administered, your dog will be evaluated to make sure that it is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. This is basically a generalized safety precaution – modern anesthetics are usually safe, even for older dogs.
- Anesthesia Monitoring - While under anesthesia, your pet’s vital sings (i.e. heart rate, respiration, body temperature and other functions) are constantly monitored for safety purposes.
- Dental Radiographs - Radiographs, commonly known as X-rays, are taken periodically for a thorough evaluation of your dog’s oral health. These are sometimes done during puppy stages to determine whether permanent teeth will come in correctly. X-rays can also determine if loose or badly infected teeth should be removed.
- Scaling & Polishing - Instruments used by vets are very closely matched to the tools used for our own dental procedures. Generally, plaque is removed, scratches in enamel are smoothed out, and teeth are cleaned and polished.
- Floride/Sealants - It is advised that fluoride or another type of anti-plaque substance is used to strengthen and desensitize teeth, and also cut down the possibility of future plaque build-ups.
Types of Procedures
Oral surgery options for pets include tooth extractions, jaw fracture repair, and instances involving oral tumors. Laws require that all procedures that alter the shape, structure or positional location of a tooth in the dental arch must be done by a licensed veterinarian, certified or registered veterinary technician, veterinary assistant with advanced dental training, dentist or registered dental hygienist.
Differences between a Veterinarian and a Vet Tech
Licensed veterinarians have specific duties when it comes to your dog’s dental health. There are certain procedures, however, that are handled by certified assistants known as veterinary technicians. Veterinary technicians are permitted to perform many of the same procedures as vets, although there are three specific areas that are not included – diagnosis and prognosis, prescription of drugs or medications and surgery
Vet techs can assist in some of these procedures, but are not qualified to perform them without the aid and supervision of a licensed veterinarian. They can be certified by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America to perform dental cleanings, and in some states, even tooth extractions.